Tony Hetherington is Financial Mail on Sunday’s ace investigator, fighting readers corners, revealing the truth that lies behind closed doors and winning victories for those who have been left out-of-pocket. Find out how to contact him below.
Ms S.E. writes: Three years ago, I took out a Personal Contract Purchase lease with Volkswagen Financial Services (VW), and this was due to end on April 30 this year.
I emailed VW on March 11, giving notice of my decision to hand back the vehicle.
On April 27, VW told me I would be contacted to arrange its collection, but on April 30 my bank texted me urgently as VW had taken £4,005 from my account. This was the sum that would have been due if I had wanted to keep the car.
Nurse: Ms S.E. was working on a busy coronavirus ward at the height of the pandemic
You told me that as soon as your bank sounded the alarm, you rang VW and staff admitted their mistake, and they arranged to return the money. That should have been the end of your problems, but they were just starting. Because of lockdown, the firm that collects vehicles for return to VW could not pick up the car. And for exactly the same reason, you could not collect the new car that you had arranged as a replacement. You are an NHS nurse, working on what were already becoming very busy Covid wards. A car was essential, so you asked VW to extend the lease for two months.
VW agreed, but then changed its mind, writing to say that if you wanted the car you had to pay the £4,005 due under the original contract. That left you unable to use the car as VW had rejected the extension of the lease. Yet at the same time, VW was unable or unwilling to collect the car but was holding you responsible for it.
Acting on VW’s instructions, you returned the log book papers to the DVLA in Swansea. VW told you that you were no longer legally allowed to drive the car, but in a separate email it ordered you to insure it.
VW told me: ‘During lockdown, we wanted to prioritise keeping people mobile, particularly where the circumstances meant that customers either couldn’t return their vehicle or collect a new one. This was successful for most of our customers, but for Ms S.E. the process failed.’
When I questioned why you should pay to insure VW’s car, I was told that VW itself would pick up the bill ‘if the customer no longer needed to use the vehicle’. Of course, you had asked if you could carry on using the car, but VW had turned you down.
And the explanation for this was sheer bureaucracy, particularly during the pandemic. VW told me: ‘Unfortunately, we require 21 days’ notice to extend a contract and in this case, this was not achievable’. Yet despite its conflicting messages to you, VW told me that it had, in fact, let you carry on using the car as long as you paid for insurance, tax and MoT. Of course, by the time VW told me this, you had already returned the log book and cancelled the insurance.
All of this was not good. But then it got worse. In July, more than three months after admitting it got it wrong when it collected £4,005 from your bank account, VW set debt collectors on to you, alleging that you owed the same £4,005 and threatening proceedings if you did not pay up.
And in August, VW sent someone from an outside firm to collect the car, but they decided it needed a new tyre so they left it where it stood – sitting on the drive at your mother’s home as it is safer behind her locked gates.
This brings us to the current situation. The car is off the road, uninsured. VW wants you to buy and fit a new tyre. I suggested that a common sense way out of this impasse would be for VW to offer to pay you for storing its car on your mother’s drive for the past few months, and the fee should be exactly the cost of the new tyre.
VW did not like this idea. It broke off contact and now refuses to say anything more to me. And to cap it all, you have told me that the car has been sitting unused for so long that it will not start.
VW has admitted to you that it handled things badly. It took more than a month before it acted on your request to return the car, and by then its automatic systems were helping themselves to more than £4,000 from your bank account. It admits it should never have called in debt collectors to threaten you, but it is still checking on whether this has affected your credit agency record.
It has offered £200 as an apology, but has told you that it will collect the car by low loader and then bill you for a new tyre.
Ironically, in response to a message from you, VW replied: ‘Thank you for taking the time to provide us with your feedback; this is invaluable in allowing us to improve our customer service.’ And wow, does it need improving.
TalkTalk email riddle
D.R. writes: Our broadband contract with TalkTalk expired as long ago as 2018, when we changed to another provider.
However, earlier this year TalkTalk claimed £50 from our Halifax bank account. We complained to Halifax and the £50 was refunded, but later TalkTalk collected it again after informing Halifax that there was a direct debit agreement.
We requested details of this agreement without success, and now wonder how much more TalkTalk will collect.
Double whammy: TalkTalk claimed £50 from D.R.’s bank account and while the money was refunded, it was then taken again
This started out as a double-puzzle. Not only was there no obvious reason why TalkTalk should collect £50 from your Halifax account, but the firm confirmed that your contract with it ended in June 2018 and added that it had no record of any £50 being collected.
You provided confirmation from Halifax that TalkTalk really did collect the payment, and this unlocked the mystery. When you were a TalkTalk broadband customer, you signed up for its email service, and when you cancelled the broadband, you did not cancel the email service as well.
TalkTalk told me: ‘We apologise for any confusion experienced by Mr R. He signed up to TalkTalk Mail Plus, which is free for current customers and available for a small fee for departing customers who wish to retain their email account with us.’ Your email account has now been closed and TalkTalk has refunded the £50.
If you believe you are the victim of financial wrongdoing, write to Tony Hetherington at Financial Mail, 2 Derry Street, London W8 5TS or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Because of the high volume of enquiries, personal replies cannot be given. Please send only copies of original documents, which we regret cannot be returned.